Chemical senses

Combined behavioral and c-Fos studies elucidate the vital role of sodium for odor detection.

PMID 16804091


Salt, known as taste quality, is generally neglected in olfaction, although the olfactory sensory neurons stretch into the salty nasal mucus covering the olfactory epithelium (OE). Using a psychophysical approach, we directly and functionally demonstrate in the awake rat for a variety of structurally diverse odorants that sodium is a critical factor for olfactory perception and sensitivity, both very important components of mammalian communication and sexual behavior. Bathing the olfactory mucus with an iso-osmotic sodium-free buffer solution results in severe deficits in odorant detection. However, sensitivity returns fully within a few hours, indicating continuous mucus production. In the presence of sodium in the mucus covering the OE, all odorants induce odorant-specific c-Fos expression in the olfactory bulb. Yet, if sodium is absent in the mucus, no c-Fos expression is induced as demonstrated for n-octanal. Our noninvasive approach to induce anosmia in mammals here presented--which is fully reversible within hours--opens new possibilities to study the functions of olfactory communication in awake animals.

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